Rebecca MacKinnon is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and founder of the citizen media network Global Voices Online.
Rebecca MacKinnon on
What is really unique about today is the way in which our reality is extending into the virtual. Increasingly, our physical lives and our digital lives are becoming intertwined. This is calling into question a whole lot of issues around power and sovereignty, and the ethics of the exercise of power and sovereignty, and the moral responsibility of the individual.
How do you achieve accountable governance that also protects rights of minorities of global digital spaces, where you have all kinds of groups trying to use the technology to achieve their goals in different ways, and to manipulate it sometimes? How do we ensure that as this globally networked system evolves, it's kind of grounded in a global system of ethics, of human rights norms, of justice that can conserve the rights and interests of everybody on the network, everybody who is using the technology, not just the most powerful or the most connected?
I think a lot of work has been done around a global ethic, around the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is, I think, a core, foundational set of ethics that was developed by a multicultural, international group of people, endorsed by the United Nations. It's still aspirational in much of the world. There is a universal human desire for at least a baseline economic fairness. It's not acceptable for the rich to sit there while others starve, particularly when the starvation is the product of an unjust system. That you have done well by society and you owe something back also seems to be a fairly universal thing.
Traditional warfare does seem to be on the decline, but deaths from injustice are actually quite significant in the twenty-first century. I think we, unfortunately, live in an age of a power log distribution, where you see fewer instances of violence, fewer cockfights on the street and dogfights and that kind of casual sadism, but each time there is an instance, the number of deaths and the amount of brutality are far higher.
In a globally interconnected world, where you have platforms and services that aren't respecting boundaries of physical sovereignty and you have communities that don't map well into boundaries of physical sovereignty, this organizing concept of governance around consent of the governed built around the nation-state—it's not working so well for us anymore. But we don't yet really know what we're going to replace it with.